04 May, 2007

The Truth of the Matter

Look. See. Don't turn away. And try to understand.
This is only some of what we're not seeing in the U.S.


03 May, 2007

Girl Meets Boy

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will finally meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem during this weeks two day summit concerning Iraq in Sharm Al-Sheikh, Egypt. Does this mean Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the members of the US Congress who met with Syrian officials in Damascus over the last few years are no longer to be tarred, feathered and called traitors? I hope so, because the ridiculous vilifying really turned my stomach. The whole conference only lasts two days so I am interested in just how much time will be spent on the meeting between Mouallem and Rice. They certainly have plenty to talk about. And, two whole days to work on solving the Iraq crisis? Wow, don't work too hard folks. The participants are supposed to agree upon a five-year plan outlining support in exchange for Iraqi reforms. Although I am not too sure how much reforming a people can do when just surviving a shopping trip to the neighborhood souq is something to celebrate. I hope Secretary Rice eventually finds her way to Damascus to keep the discussions moving.

To those of you who are apoplectic about the meeting - Ann, Bill, Sean, etc. - don't worry. The administration continues to refuse to deal with Iran; 18 years and counting.


02 May, 2007

Bad Day for Mother Nature

In Florida, if you are building a strip mall or tract houses, you can legally kill a Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). In Florida, they are listed as a species of concern (two steps removed from endangered) and on the decline, mainly due to habitat lost to the area's rampant development.

Oh, sure you can try to relocate them, but they just end up killed one way or another while slowly making their way back to their home range. Much like you or me they eventually just want to go home only to discover like the rest of us that you can never truly go home again. For us it's usually family issues. For them "home", once sand pine scrub, is now a new housing development incongruously named for what is no longer there ("Tortoise Trace") and laced with pretentious, made-up street names (Harvard Ln. or Yale Pl.). And we're not talking one or two; try about 200 for one roughly 2000 acre site. So, the polite term for how land developers and mining companies can handle their tortoise "problem" is mitigation. According to the Gopher Tortoise Council:

"In Florida, rather than relocate tortoises, developers have the option of "mitigation". In this case the developers must apply for an incidental take permit, and although tortoises at the development site are lost, funds are contributed toward the purchase of gopher tortoise habitat elsewhere. Gopher tortoises at mitigation sites are afforded long-term protection by the state."

So, if you are a tortoise living under what will be that "master planned community", gas station, shopping mall, etc. you are screwed; mitigation equals death by entombment. However, if you are one of the lucky ones blessed to live in a "mitigation site," even if all you want to do is get your prehistoric self back to your home range, you will live to the expected ripe old age of upwards of 60 years.

Once granted your permit, and you most certainly will be, you can go on your merry way and simply pave over their nests. These tortoises are burrowers and not all that quick, so it's an easy task to manage. Yes, as easy as 1-2-3 you can encase them in concrete, leave them to suffocate, and get on with erecting a new Gas-n-Sip, patio home, or drug store. Does this whole thing seem wrong to anybody? Of course, now and then, one of these ancient buggers throws a wrench in your plans and gets himself in the way of "progress" and then makes it into the papers. And I am not the only one who thinks this is just plain wrong.

In addition to the loss of this poor guy, we may have to deal with the loss of honey bees, which admittedly could pose larger problems Sure I knew they had their function in nature, but I had no idea how important honey bees are to this country's food crops. Anybody have any good ideas for replacements?

And, that alarm you should hear going off worldwide would be the Arctic ice cap, melting a good 30 years AHEAD of schedule. Way to work on deadline.

And, somewhere in environmental hell James Watt and Anne Gorsuch are smiling. Can somebody inform Shrub's people that the Endangered Species Act is not a hunting season to-do list. For those of you who don't remember Reagan other than his funeral.

Good times, good times.

01 May, 2007

Trek salaama wa fursa sayida

I am saddened and worried to hear Riverbend is leaving Iraq. Everybody should know about her blog and be reading it at this point. Read her latest post about the walls being built by the Americans and Iraqi government around Sunni areas of Baghdad. I agree with her that this is a ridiculous idea (see also: Palestine and Mexico); better fences do not make better neighbors is the very least of this issue. She also reveals that her family has finally come to the awful realization that they must leave and what she writes is heart breaking. What would you take of your life if you didn't know if you would ever be back? I wish she and her family safe journeys and luck at the border; luck being all that most Iraqis have to depend on these days. Jordan and Syria are the only countries they can enter without a visa and are thus being overwhelmed.

According to the UNHCR, an estimated 2 million Iraq's have been displaced inside Iraq and another 2 million have fled to other countries with the Syrian government estimating that 1.4 million have entered Syria. Read this article about the efforts of the UNHCR and the Syrian government overall and yesterdays signing of an agreement for the UNHCR to provide the Syrian Ministry of Health $2 million for improvement of hospitals, staff increases, and provisioning.

The US response was to FINALLY increase the number of visas available, but as Riverbend points out one is lucky to survive the necessary trips to the so-called "safe" Green Zone to go through the formalities and paperwork. And you had better have the right kind of passport. And you had better keep your mouth shut about unpleasant things like body counts.

And you had better not be a Palestinian refugee from Iraq. The Syrian government decided the 450,000 Palestinian refugees already living there is enough for them and are refusing Palestinians entry from Iraq thereby leaving these people in limbo at the border. This is only the latest problem for this segment of the Iraqi population; for being treated well by the Hussein regime, who saw them as a way to score political points in the region, they now face reprisals ranging from the loss of homes to murder.

When I arrived in Damascus in January 2006 there was a lot of talk of the refugees. People complained about rising prices. My neighborhood was said to be full of Iraqis, but somehow I only met Syrians. When I returned in December of 2006 the effects were far more apparent; I was shown a tiny one bedroom walk-up flat that the owner wanted to rent for about five times what I'd paid for spacious apartment with a glorious view just a few months prior. The streets seemed to burst with more people than I remembered; the faces and mood had changed.

29 April, 2007

Go Gators!

No surprise that the severe drought in my home state of Florida is having a greater effect on wildlife than on those pesky humans who complain mightily about not being able to wash their cars when they please or water their personal exotic landscapes known as lawns. As is the case when water levels are low the alligator population is searching for some relief and that is often found closer to humans than many of the two-legged creatures would prefer.

Many people in S. Florida have complained about gators in their pools, backyards, etc. for years. Homo sapiens originated about 200,000 years ago. Alligator mississippiensis and its relatives developed about 80 million years ago. So, who is in whose backyard really?

Gators may, in fact, make better neighbors than other humans. A friend of mine who tried to welcome a new neighbor to his S. Florida neighborhood with a simple "hello" was met with the response, "I didn't move to f***ing Florida to talk to f***ing neighbors."

Where I am currently staying people haven't tuned into their own drought issues; they are surprised a visitor like me can rattle off their watering restrictions. It seems to me people continue to think about water the way we used to (o.k., often still do) think about trees: plenty of them, always been there and always will be.

Florida is a contradiction; a landscape defined by water, yet a green desert lacking significant surface water resources. And with studies showing about 1,000 people moving to Florida every day the situation will only continue to get worse. Too many people not enough effective leadership and, in some critical areas, a real lack of community. Period. Unfortunately it's been this way for a very long time. People have been shouting about the need for change down here since before I was born. And yet here we are in another drought, which is beginning to sound as quaint a term as "police action". The term "water emergency" is actually being uttered this time.

In my experience, the transient nature of the population is a special kind of problem. A lot of transplants live there, but "home" is strangely still where they came from; that's where their allegiances lie whether your talking taxes for education or water. These are often the people that think a hurricane warning is a reason to party, not evacuate. They don't know about this place they moved to and they don't care. In writing about the 2001 drought for a small newspaper in S. Florida I fielded far too many calls from newcomers who thought S. Florida's watersheds functioned the same as the ones in Pennsylvania, New York, or Ohio. They questioned why they couldn't wash their car when there was plenty of water in the "lake" behind their condo, which is actually an aquifer recharge pond. My favorite was the guy who was irate because, "there's plenty of water in the water hazards on the golf courses." I had to bite my tongue and try to keep from suggesting he go ahead and chug down a big glass of it; water hazards collect all the crap that gets added to the course to make it so "pretty".

Read this article from today's Miami Herald that gives some pretty graphic explanations of how bad it is - "face the prospect of buying bottled water if seawater works its way into coastal well fields, making tap water too salty to drink." Worse is what is already happening out in the Everglades - "Wading birds already have abandoned the drying marsh ''super colony,'' the most productive breeding ground in the Glades in recent years." You don't have to be a scientist to know it could get even worse there with devastating wildfires eating away the peat and a shortage of fresh water flowing into already-troubled Florida Bay increasing algae blooms. The accompanying map shows how the natural system is supposed to work and where it's not.

There is a virtual Mary Poppins satchel of information about water on the web including the EPA's Surf Your Watershed. For those of you living in, moving to, or contemplating a move to Florida check out SFWMD, figure out which water management district you live in, do your homework and make some changes. And to those of you that refuse to believe, listen, or change. Do the rest of us a favor and, please, leave. Last one out, turn off the tap.